A Sri Lankan Train Ride

We drove from Nuwira Eliya to Nanu-Oya and took the 2 1/2 hour scenic train ride to Ella. The train reminded us of the backpacker train we took from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Instead of a lovely valley by the river in Peru, the Sri Lankan scenery was hill side tea plantations with workers picking tea. Instead of switchbacks, thankfully, the train hugged the base of the hills and passed under tunnels. The ride was a nice one, but became repetitive after the first hour.

There are several classes of seats on the train. Tourist class is open seating. First and second class are assigned seating, with the difference being that first class is air conditioned and the windows can’t be opened. As a result, first class is no good if for people who want to take pictures. And, the elevation makes the heat manageable so the AC is not really needed.

Ella: 98 Acres Eco-Friendly Resort

We stayed 98 Acres, an eco-friendly boutique hotel just outside of town. The location is ideal for those who want to climb Little Adams Peak. The resort consisted of 12 bungalows each housing 2 suites. Our unit was the one that was located at the very end, next to the spa and very close to the climb up to Adams Peak. After 315 steps to the top of Admas Peak, we were rewarded with 360 degrees view of the countryside and of Ella Rock. There was a small altar with a Buddha at the top of Little Adams Peak. Devotees climb the peak to make offerings especially on Poya days.

From the balcony in our unit, we had an unobstructed view of Little Adams Peak and Ella Rock. 98 acres is a resort that sits on – you guess it, 98 acres of tea plantation that belongs to UVA Greenlands. The room was rustic, one of the walls was lined with old wood taken from old tea crates, the king-size bed was huge, the largest we slept on and ever so comfortable. Instead of air conditioning there is a large ceiling fan. Even in the summer, there is no real need for air conditioning at that elevation. For privacy, you can lower these blinds or leave them semi shuttered so you can be woken by the sunrise rising behind Little Adams Peak.

The large bathroom is wonderfully equipped with a rain shower separated from the sink and toilet area by a clear glass wall. Natural ayurvedic soaps, shampoos and conditioners are provided for your use.

The resort is not wheelchair accessible – there are hundreds of steps, to your rooms, to the pool, to the reception and most importantly, to the restaurant. The resort employs golf carts that would bring you and your luggage up and down the narrow paths lined with tea bushes.


After spending much of the day at Anuradhapura, went over to Mihintale for a short visit. As it was Poya Day, this area was also very crowded. Exhausted and hot, we elected not to climb the 1,843 steps up to Mihintale. Instead we drove up to near the top and  climbed a shorter distance.

We would recommend others to do the day in reverse–Mihintale first when you have energy for the climb. Or spend two days seeing the sites. 

This site dates to 247 BC. It is believed to be where a Buddhist monk from India named Mahinda brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka by converting King Devanamplayatissa. As a result, this site is revered by the Singhalese.

At the top there are three places to climb further. One is Kantaka Chetiya, a dagoba built around 250BC. We tried to climb but the wait was too long so we only went halfway. 

Rekawa Turtles


We walk into the courtyard. About 40 people are sitting around in folding chairs. We were greeted by Saman, a tall, gruff man who has spent 20+ years protecting the giant seas turtles of Rekawa. On the floors are crude paintings of different kinds of turtles that visit Rekawa to deposit their eggs. 
“Here are  the rules. Only red lights. The turtles can’t see that range very well. No flash photography. Stand 10 meters away from the turtles when they are digging the egg chamber. Don’t stand in front of a turtle. Only behind. Sit over there. I’ll tell you if the turtles arrive.”

It is 8:30 pm. 

At 9:15pm, “A turtle has come on the beach. Pay now,” says Saman. Everyone lines up to pay the 1,000 rupees (about $8). 

Saman then leads us on to the dark beach. There are a million stars above us but no moon. It’s balmy. We walk very quietly in darkness except for a few red flashlights and in anticipation of seeing one of these giant turtles lay eggs. 

When we arrive 15 minutes later, Saman announces, “She is still digging. Wait here. Stay 10 meters away. No lights.”

30 minutes pass. The waves crash against the shore. People clump in groups, talking quietly, reading their phones. Some get tired and sit on the sand. 

“She’s now digging the egg chamber-75 centemeters. It takes about 20 minutes.”

15 minutes pass. 

“The egg chamber has collapsed. She’ll probably go back to the sea. Make two lines so she can pass. Wait. Looks like she’s going to try again. Right there. Back up. Stay 10 meters away. No flash. No white light.”

It’s now 10:30pm. We’ve been on the beach for 2 hours and everyone is worried that we won’t get to see the turtle lay her eggs. The tide is also coming in, closer and closer to us. 

45 minutes pass. 

“She’s done with the egg chamber. She started to lay eggs. Line up 10 at a time. First ten follow me.”

Turtle eggs!

Relief and excitement ripple through the group. 

We stand behind the turtle peering into the hole. Can’t see anything. He points a red light and we move slightly to the right. Under the red light we see white eggs the size of ping pong balls. It’s amazing to see. This green turtle is about 40 years old, three feet long and is laying more than 100 eggs. 

After everyone has seen the turtle, we all go back up and stand behind to watch. 

She finishes laying eggs and now starts to cover the eggs with sand. She will now spend 1+ hours completely covering the hole she has dug.

We watch as she pushes sand with her front and back flippers. She throws sand 5-6 feet with her front flippers. Some of it lands on us. The eggs are covered and she continues to cover the entire hole. Flip, flip, flip, flip with the front flips. Moving dirt around with back flippers. Then rest for a moment. Inching forward as more of the hole is filled. It’s now 11:30pm and we begin to think about going back. Some people have already drifted off. 

We start walking.  200 meters away we come upon another Green turtle laying eggs. She has just started. Saman shows us an egg. We watch for a moment then keep walking the kilometer back. Quietly and excited about the evenings activites and ready for sleep. 

But we’re not done yet. 

We come upon a third green turtle. She’s magnificent. Almost 60 years old and 5 feet long. The largest and oldest turtle we’ve seen. She’s already finished laying eggs and is filling the hole. Flip, flip, flip. Pause. Flip, flip, flip. 

All three will likely be back in 2 weeks to deposit another batch of 100+ eggs. 

We continue our walk home and the 30 minute drive back to the hotel. Tired and excited about what we’ve seen. 

Dambulla Cave Temples

Pulling into the parking lot, the first thing we see is a giant golden Buddha. It’s quite cheesy. This can’t really be Dambulla. We were expecting more majestic and serious.  This was indeed the entrance to the famous Dambulla Cave Temples. To the side began the staircases that take you 160 meters up to the 2,000 year old caves. We hoped the climb was worth it. 

Then Champika, our driver, said come back to the car– there is an easier way up. A few short minutes later we arrived at another spot. We got out of the car and looked up. And groaned. Another set of steep stairs. The day before we had been to Sigirya and climbed 1,200 steps. 

We began to climb with great expectations.  We entered the first Cave. If we weren’t already out of breathe, it would have taken our breath away. 

The Dambulla caves date back to the 1st century BC, though there are caves and buddhas that have been added recently. There are 5 caves with more than 150 Buddhas and paintings. It is thought to have been established during the 1st century BC by King Valagamba. 

As we walking into the dimly lit first cave, the first thing we saw was a 45 foot long reclining Buddha. It was indeed impressive. 

The second cave is the largest–the Temple of the Great King. It is 150 feet wide and 20 feet high. There are 2 statues of King Valagamba. On the ceiling we saw water running upwards before dropping into a huge urn. This water is used for sacred rituals because the upward flow is so unusual. The main Buddha statue sits under a cobra hood and was once covered in gold leaf. There are dozens of Buddhas in the cave and the ceiling is covered in painting. 

The third cave was converted from a store room in the 18th century and has a beautiful reclining buddha. There isn’t too much to say about the 4th cave. The fifth cave has both Buddhist and Hindu imagery. 

It was definitely worth the climb. As we began to exit, we looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow above the caves. We took this as a good omen and began the climb down.